Once more into the fray
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know
Live and die on this day
Live and die on this day
These are the words of the deeply profound poem that features throughout the film. I saw this film only recently and instantly regretted I didn’t see it in the cinema when it was released. Impeccably acted, directed and scripted, The Grey features an invaluable and non-pretentious lesson about life; it’s about never giving up, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds and almost certain death.
The Grey is a survival movie first and foremost, the story follows Ottway (Liam Neeson) and his cohorts as their plane crashes in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness. Ottway is contracted as a sniper to kill wolves around the oil rig to prevent them harming any of the workers. He is also deeply troubled and is seen at the beginning of the movie putting the barrel of his gun into his mouth. After hearing the howl of the wolves and remembering the poem from his childhood written by his deceased father, he decides not to kill himself.
Stranded in the middle of nowhere Ottway and his companions must battle the elements and a pack of wolves (hence The ‘Grey’) to survive. The film is lacking in pretension and clichés, there are no miracles in The Grey, no ‘divine intervention’ despite a particularly emotional scene in which Ottway cries out in pleading to the deity that has forsaken him. The portrayal of strength in ‘The Grey’ differs from the classical definition — Ottway admits he is terrified — introducing the concept of a deeper, more inherent strength, the strength to continue when the odds are stacked against you.
Neeson plays a man with nothing to lose, a man whose very soul has been torn apart long before the wolves reach him. In the end, surrounded by the pack, he must make a choice; to fight or to die. Remembering the words of his wife on her deathbed and the legacy of his father he is imbued with a new almost otherworldly resolve. He confronts the Alpha wolf with the words of his father echoing in his own breath with an animatistic determination gleaming in his eyes.
The film has several triumphs that combined make it one of the best movies of the year. Firstly the acting was superb, Neeson fulfilled and exceeded all expectations in the role and was perfectly cast as the grieving husband (Neeson’s own wife Natasha Richardson passed away a few years prior in a tragic accident while he was filming Unknown). Drawing from his own very real grief, Neeson is captivating and spellbinding in his impeccable portrayal of love and loss. A touching and compelling exercise in character-driven cinema, The Grey is a captivating thriller that is excellently directed, superbly acted, beautifully shot and one of the finest cinematic achievements of the last ten years.
- Direction: 4/5
- Acting: 5/5
- Entertainment: 4/5
- Second Viewing Value: 5/5
- Liam Neeson: 6/5
- Overall: 5/5
- Bradley Cooper was originally cast, but was replaced with Liam Neeson.
- Michael Biehn was considered for a role.
- According to actor Liam Neeson’s account, the temperatures were as low as -40°C in Smithers (British Columbia) where the film was shot. The snow storms/scenes were actual prevailing weather conditions and not a cinematic illusion produced with CGI trickery. The cast wore thermals under their costumes for additional protection.
- In order to prepare for his role, Liam Neeson reportedly ate wolf jerky
- The plane shown in the movie is a McDonnell Douglas MD-80.